Archive of March 29, 2006

100,000 pilgrims expected for events honoring John Paul II

Rome, Italy, Mar 29, 2006 (CNA) - On April 2 an estimated 100,000 people from around the world are expected to participate in events honoring John Paul II in Rome and Poland—including the carrying of a symbolic torch from the Vatican to Krakow.
Police in Rome have said they expect large numbers of pilgrims, especially from Poland, to descend upon the city for a rosary on April 2 and a special Mass on April 3 celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints has also announced the diocesan phase of the cause of beatification of John Paul II will be concluded on April 1.

This Tuesday also saw the inauguration of the first ever “Lolek Torch,” an event in which dozens of athletes are running from Rome to Krakow, symbolically retracing the journey of young Karol Wojtyla—who was known affectionately in Poland as “Lolek”—from his native land to the See of Peter.

According to Fides, a group of runners will pass on to one another the “Lolek Torch” in cities along the way, including Assisi, Loreto, Czestochowa and Wadowice.  The torch was lit on Tuesday at the tomb of John Paul II and was received by Pope Benedict XVI today at the Wednesday General Audience.  From there it will be carried through Assisi and Loreto, where a prayer vigil will be led by Archbishop Gianni Danzi of Loreto on Thursday night

On Friday runners will begin carrying it from Loreto through Wadowice to Czestochowa and then on to Krakow by April 2.  There it will be handed to Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz and the faithful gathered at the Cathedral of Sts. Wescenslaus and Stanislaw for a prayer vigil lasting through 9:37pm local time, the exact moment when John Paul II died one year earlier.

The group of runners will cover some 313 miles—139 in Italy and 174 in Poland.

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Beltway Cardinals oppose abuse extension bills, many cite nationwide anti-Catholic trend

, Mar 29, 2006 (CNA) - Church officials around the U.S. capitol are opposing two bills that would extend the time allowed for victims of child sex abuse to file lawsuits against abusers and their employers. The bills seem to be part of a nationwide trend, which many experts say threatens undermine and scapegoat the Catholic Church for a larger and far more widespread problem.

According to the Washington Post, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington and Cardinal William Keeler of the Baltimore archdiocese have expressed opposition to the bills to House Judiciary Committee members directly and through intermediaries.

The archdioceses have hired prominent lobbying firm Schwartz & Metz to supplement the efforts of the Maryland Catholic Conference. They are calling and meeting with legislators and committee members about the bill, whose main sponsor is Del. Pauline Menes (D-Prince George's).

Under current Maryland law, lawsuits by childhood abuse victims can be filed until the victim is 25. The two bills would allow victims file until they are 42 and open a two-year window during which victims of any age could sue.

Supporters say the bills are needed because victims typically do not report the abuse until they are in their thirties or forties. Church officials however, argue it would be hard for defendants to present an adequate defense decades after an alleged incident.

Similar bills are currently being battled in dioceses across the U.S., including Denver, where a prominent campaign raised heated tempers over a bill that many called “blatantly anti-Catholic.”

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput has argued that as important as justice for sexual abuse victims is, many of the proposed laws unfairly target the Catholic Church, leaving other known violators—like public schools, which are protected by federal statutes—all but untouched.

Federal law protects many public institutions from abuse cases from being brought more than 181 days after the alleged event.

With regard to the Colorado bills, Archbishop Chaput has said that some “legislators seem determined to be harsh when it comes to Catholic and other private institutions, and much softer when it comes to their own public institutions, including public schools. And it will be families, including Catholic families, who suffer.”

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Pope says he wants to visit China

, Mar 29, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict wants to visit China but says the timing of any trip is up to God, reported Reuters.

Asked by media mogul Jimmy Lai during a Vatican audience if he would visit China, "the Holy Father said he wanted to come, but God would decide when," Hong Kong's South China Morning Post quoted Lai as saying.

The also Pope encouraged Martin Lee, a founder of Hong Kong's Democratic Party which has been fighting for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, to continue working for democracy, the newspaper said.

Lai and Lee were in Rome for last week's elevation of Bishop Joseph Zen of Hong Kong to the College of Cardinals.

Beijing has insisted that diplomatic ties cannot be resumed unless the Vatican first severs its links with Taiwan.

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Pope Benedict calls Church the link that brings true communion between God, mankind

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2006 (CNA) - During his weekly general audience, held earlier today in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict XVI said that the ultimate aim of the Gospel is communion with God himself, and through it, true communion with the rest of mankind. He stressed the importance of this message at a time when fragmentations and strife between peoples run extraordinarily high worldwide.

More than 40,000 people were on hand to hear the Pope who continued today his catechetical series on the relationship between Christ and the Church in light of the experience of the Apostles and the task entrusted to them.

Benedict began by saying that "Through the apostolic ministry, the Church, the community brought together by the Son of God, ... will live through the ages, building and nourishing the communion in Christ and in the Spirit to which everyone is called and in which everyone can experience the salvation given by the Father.”

"Indeed,” he said, “the twelve Apostles were careful to provide successors so that the mission entrusted to them would continue after their death.”

Because of this, he explained that “over the centuries the Church, organically structured under the guidance of her legitimate pastors, has continued to live in the world as a mystery of communion which in some way reflects Trinitarian communion itself."

The Pope then pointed out that "the idea of communion as participation in Trinitarian life" is particularly highlighted in the Gospel of St. John, "where the communion of love binding the Son to the Father and to mankind is at the same time the model and source of the fraternal communion which must unite disciples to one another."

He said that "During their earthly pilgrimage [the] disciples, through their communion with the Son, can already participate in His divine life and in that of the Father. ... This life of communion, both with God and among ourselves, is the ultimate aim of the announcement of the Good News."

He called communion “the fruit of the Holy Spirit,” which, he said, “is nourished by the Eucharistic bread and expressed through fraternal relations, a kind of anticipation of future glory.”

Benedict said that communion “is the gift that lifts us out of our solitude and brings us to participate in the love that unites us to God and with one another.” He added that it “is easy to understand how great this gift is if we only think of the fragmentation and conflicts afflicting relations between individuals, groups and entire peoples."

Concluding, the Holy Father said that "Communion truly is the good news that remedies all forms of solitude, the precious gift that makes us feel welcomed and loved in God, in the unity of His people gathered in the name of the Trinity; it is the light that makes the Church shine out as a sign raised among peoples."

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Mission Chicago seeks to ‘jump-start’ evangelization

Chicago, Ill., Mar 29, 2006 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Chicago has taken on a mega-evangelization project in an effort to draw back lapsed Catholics and to re-energize practicing Catholics in their faith. It’s called Mission Chicago 2006 and, according to a New York Times report, Chicago is the largest archdiocese to organize such wide-ranging events focused on evangelization.

Fr. Robert Barron is heading the yearlong project, initiated by Cardinal Francis George. So far, Mission Chicago 2006 has included a three-day Festival of Faith at a convention center, a day of round-the-clock confessions with 70 priests on hand, a series of six “back-to-basics” sermons by Fr. Barron and the distribution of 2,500 motivational DVDs.

Thousands flocked last month to the Festival of Faith, which featured concerts and workshops in English, Spanish and Polish. And, at one parish, 400 people turned out this month for the round-the-clock confession initiative.

According to the New York Times, some of the efforts are taking a cue from evangelical Protestants, whose mega-churches are attracting some lapsed Catholics due to their ability to link Scripture with everyday life. They also use pop music, social events, the Internet, informal settings and small-group fellowship to foster a sense of community.

Mission Chicago is a response to the current reality facing the Church, namely declining church attendance, a priest shortage, the aftermath of sexual abuse scandals and the lure of other Christian denominations.

The Catholic population in the U.S. grew to 64.8 million last year, from 45.6 million in 1965, due in large part to growth in the number of Latino Catholics, which currently make up 39 percent of the nation's Catholic population. But the percentage of Catholics who attend Mass weekly fell to 45 percent in 2004, from 74 percent in 1955, and the number of priests has dropped by 27 percent.

Chicago is the third-largest diocese in the United States with 2.3 million Catholics.

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Archbishop of San Antonio: United States was built by immigrants

, Mar 29, 2006 (CNA) - During a forum on international immigration, Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio said the United States is a country built on immigration and that Christians should respond to this challenge in accord with the teaching of Christ: I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

During the forum, which was organized by Mexico’s Secretariat for Foreign Relations and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Archbishop Gomez noted the economic, social and cultural contributions of immigrants to their new countries.

In the case of the United States, the archbishop said according to the 2002 census, Hispanic immigrants number more than 37 million and represent 13.3% of the US population.  Of these, 66.9% are from Mexico; 14.3% are from Central and South America; 8.6% are from Puerto Rico; 3.7% from Cuba; and the remaining 6.5% from other Hispanic countries, including Spain.

Emphasizing that his objective was to present a pastoral perspective, Archbishop Gomez recalled that the North American identity has been definitively marked by the phenomenon of immigration.  Nevertheless, he warned that “today there is a more articulated, more organic, perhaps more ‘politically correct’ but more intellectually and politically sophisticated ideological resistance (on the part of natives).”

“The most significant expression of this prejudice is perhaps the book ‘Who We Are’ by Samuel P. Huntington,” which Archbishop Gomez said carries great weight among “the intellectual higher-ups of American political parties,” and which claims that Hispanics, “if they maintain their identity and continuing coming in the same numbers, ‘will destroy’ the achievements of the United States, which are unique in the world in terms of liberty and well being.”

Archbishop Gomez said he was saddened that the issue is dividing Catholics in the US.  However, he recalled that the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the more prosperous nations have the duty to welcome, as much as possible, the foreigner who seeks security and a means of living that he is unable to find in his country of origin.”

With respect to illegal immigrants, Archbishop Gomez said granting them legal status would bring economic benefits to the United States, as well as affirm the moral reserve that Hispanics represent for the country. He also argued it “would help to bring greater development and stability in Latin America.”

He explained that such steps would not be the end, but only the beginning of the solution to the problem.  “It is necessary to harmonize immigration with the legitimate regulation which governments establish regarding the arrival of foreigners,” he added.

Regarding the role of Catholics, Archbishop Gomez said, “We must have the wisdom and the strength to listen to the call of God to live as brothers and sisters and to build a better world.”

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Young people present 250,000 signatures opposing abortion to Argentinean lawmakers

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Mar 29, 2006 (CNA) - Pro-life groups in Argentina presented a petition signed by 250,000 people to lawmakers this week demanding they refrain from legalizing abortion in the country.

The campaign to collect signatures began on December 28, 2004, and was intended to be a local effort at first, but later became a nationwide initiative.

Pro-life groups said the purpose of the project was to make Argentinean lawmakers aware of their opposition “to the legalization of this horrendous crime.”  The original plan was to present the petition on March 25, Day of the Unborn Child in Argentina, but since the day fell on a Saturday, when lawmakers are not in session, the petition was presented instead on March 28.

“The Day of the Unborn Child is the appropriate occasion for ending this campaign…and we will praying in every corner of the country that our opinion will reach the hearts and minds of our lawmakers,” pro-life leaders said in a statement.  They noted that many lawmakers are pro-life, and “it is our duty to give them all the necessary help to prevent the deaths of millions of Argentineans.”

If Argentineans do not mobilize and abortion becomes legal, they continued, “we will be responsible for not having done enough to stop this horrendous crime.”

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Group calls Illinois governor’s pharmacist contraceptive measure an ‘irresponsible display of power’

, Mar 29, 2006 (CNA) - On Monday, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich issued new regulations which could force some pharmacists to fill prescriptions for contraceptives and even abortifacients which they may find morally objectionable. The New York-based “No Room for Contraception” campaign today called the move an “irresponsible display of power.

Mary Worthington, a spokeswoman for the campaign, said that "Governor Blagojevich has complete disregard for the conscientious objections of pharmacists,” and that "His new restrictions and penalties for pharmacists demonstrate an irresponsible display of power.”

She opined that the governor’s move will “force many pharmacists out of business because of their own religious or moral convictions, and this is not fair."

In a statement, the group added that "access to Plan B emergency contraception does no service to women's health; this is a dangerous and powerful drug. Easy access to emergency contraception will make women more vulnerable to sexual abuse.

“With greater access to and use of emergency contraception,” Worthington wrote, “women will be expected to further cover up instances of sexual abuse by taking emergency contraceptives perhaps even placing her own health and fertility at risk."

Worthington stressed in her statement that "Governor Blagojevich's efforts should focus on funding initiatives that will help women and families find alternatives to contraception, provide educational information on the harms of contraception, and teach natural family planning methods." 

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Born-again actor teams with Catholic group, battles against neighborhood porn shop

, Mar 29, 2006 (CNA) - Born-again bad boy actor Stephen Baldwin has taken up a battle against a porn store opening in Nyack, the Rockland County town where he lives, and Catholic Citizenship has joined him in the fight, reported the New York Daily News.

The lobby group filed a petition, claiming Nyack's planning board failed to consider the impact the porn store could have on the community, when they approved its construction in January.

Baldwin, 39, said he is not directly involved with the petition but supports it. The father of two says the shop would bring sex offenders and deviants into town. He called it “ridiculous” that the shop will be located 200 feet from an elementary school.

A lawsuit, claiming that the city’s planning board has not followed all of the proper procedures, has been filed with the Supreme Court in Rockland County.

The town’s attorney, Walter Sevastian, said the town believes it followed all the proper procedures.

Baldwin has threatened to photograph store patrons and publicize the pictures.

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Cuban government harasses parish praying rosary for dissidents

Havana, Cuba, Mar 29, 2006 (CNA) - Since 2003 Cuban police agents have been harassing the parish of Palma Soriano, where a group of Catholics gather each month to pray the rosary for political prisoners.  Cuban officials have called the activity “counterrevolutionary.”

The idea of praying the rosary came from Roilan Montero, who was himself a political prisoner.  The group gathers on the 18th day of each month to pray for dissidents rounded up during the “Black Spring” of 2003, when some 75 people were arrested and sentenced to prison terms.

At first the group met at the home of one of the prisoner’s family, but they had to stop their meetings because of government pressure.  They then decided to ask Father Oscar Mario Romero Becerra if they could meet at the parish of Palma Soriano. Government officials continued to harass the group and eventually forced Father Becerra in August of 2004 to leave Cuba and return to his native Mexico.

Despite the pressure, the group decided to meet on March 18 to pray the rosary, with the permission of the new pastor, Father Francisco Sanabria Encizo.

Government agents set up huge loudspeakers in order to the keep the group from initiating their prayers and coerced children and adolescents to taunt the group once they finished praying.  Father Sanabria was denounced by the government for organizing a counterrevolutionary activity in the parish, but he was not intimidated and said the rosary had no political significance of any sort.

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Recent polls show Catholic Church is strong in France and Germany

Paris, France, Mar 29, 2006 (CNA) -

Recent polls in two European countries now show that the Church is growing as a powerful social institution. In France, numbers of practicing Catholics remain strong while the German Church is benefiting from the election of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope last year.

In France the poll showed that the Catholic Church remains by far the most important institution. Figures coming from the French Bishops Conference, a recent poll from the CSA institute and the daily LeMonde newspaper, show that 62 % of the population considers itself Catholic, 12 % say they are somewhat practicing and 35% are non-practicing.

Half of French children are currently baptized, and about 18,826 adults and
children over 7 years old were baptized in 2001.

France has just over 100 bishops and 24 000 priests currently exercise their pastoral activity there.

In 2002, there were 132 newly ordained priests, while about 9,542 men and 46,007 women belong to religious congregations. More than 6,000 French are in mission out of France (Africa, Latin America, Asia) and about 1000 of them are priests.

The strength of the Catholic Church largely lies in the 8,719 schools belonging to the organizations of catholic education in the country. More than 35,000 students are currently enrolled in the system. There are also many important catholic associations, such as Catholic Charities which are linked with the Church.

Likewise, the Catholic Church in Germany is benefiting from a “Benedict XVI effect.” Indeed many Germans are witnessing a mix of sympathy and curiosity for this theologian-Pope.

Experts say that the election of the Bavarian Pope, the shy and discret Joseph Ratzinger came at the perfect time for the German Church.

Accordingto a recent poll from the Forsa Institute for the Neue Bild Post newspaper, 59% of Catholics and 54% of people with no religious confessions say the election of Joseph Ratzinger benefited the German Church.

37% view him as a prudent moderated reformer while the fact that he is a theologian, mastering the subtleties of modern German thought is certainly thought to be an advantage in a country very suspicious of Popes in general. It is often known as the land of Luther and the reformation.

Pope Benedict has shown his ability for dialogue and openness by receiving the contested theologian Hans Kung as well as the representatives of the most traditional movements of the Church.

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